Florida Panthers' Erik Gudbranson (44) is trapped between New Jersey Devils' David Clarkson (23) and Alexei Ponikarovsky (12) during the first period of Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Sunrise, Fla., Sunday, April 15, 2012. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
NEWARK, N.J. - On the surface, it would appear the New Jersey Devils notched a split of their two playoff games with the Florida Panthers by playing two periods.
A three-goal first period carried New Jersey to a 3-2 win in the opener on Friday, and a two-goal third period Sunday made Game 2 close in a 4-2 loss in this first-round series.
Sounds simple. The only problem is the Devils don't agree with the assessment.
Heading into Game 3 on Tuesday at the Prudential Center, the Devils like the way they are playing. They believe the only thing that separated them from a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series was they took a few too many penalties.
Take those away, pick up the pace, and the Devils like their chances, especially with three of the next four games at home.
"We would love to be up 2-nothing right now," Devils captain Zach Parise said in a conference call Monday after coach Peter DeBoer elected not to practice. "That's not the case. I don't want to sit here and say that was a golden opportunity because we are still in great shape. We had a great finish to the game last night. I think for the most part we like the way we are playing."
In some ways, the Panthers feel the same way. Take out the first period of Game 1 when they were outshot 26-9 and outscored 3-0, and the Panthers have learned how to play with New Jersey. They were the better team by far on Sunday night for the opening 40 minutes, taking a 3-0 lead into the final 20 minutes.
Two early third-period goals in a little over a minute made Florida sweat for its first playoff win since 1997, but they hung on, getting some excellent goaltending from Jose Theodore with the game on the line.
"We've just got to keep playing our complete game and play like we did in the first couple periods and some areas in the third period," Panthers defenceman Brian Campbell said. "We've got some more work to do. I thought we changed a few things that worked out well for us in Game 2 and we're going to have to keep adapting and trying new things as well."
DeBoer, who coached the Panthers for three seasons before coming to New Jersey, laughed when asked about bottling the Devils' good periods for 60 minutes, adding Panthers coach Kevin Dineen also is probably looking for the magic formula.
"That's the waves of momentum that you ride in the playoffs," DeBoer said. "You see it everywhere. I don't know why—when we had them 3-0—we couldn't come back with another period. I am sure Kevin would say the same thing when they had it (last) night. That's playoff hockey. Overall, I like our game. I like where we are at.
"We are doing a lot of things well. We feel confident moving forward."
The Devils made two key mistakes in the loss Sunday. Defenceman Andy Greene took a penalty in the opening minute that allowed the Panthers to take the lead, and a full two-minute, two-man advantage in the second period gave Florida its second goal.
Florida is 3 of 7 with the extra man in the series. The Devils are 1 of 8 on the power play.
"We've got a lot of guys that have been there, done that," said Stephen Weiss, who waited a decade to make the playoffs. "We're going to be patient. It's not going to be easy but we're excited to go and give it our best shot and try to steal a couple there."
The Devils, who missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 1996, have struggled at home in the post-season in recent years. They have not escaped the first round in their last three appearances, posting a 3-7 mark at the Prudential Center.
Goaltender Martin Brodeur said this is a different team, one that is much closer and tighter.
And a lot better.
"When you go and match up with a team more and more, you learn how to play as a team," Brodeur said. "It's quite obvious now that we know we have to play a high tempo game, if we want to be successful against these guys."
Parise might be the key. He has had 12 shots in the first two games and has failed to score.
"I had some great opportunities," Parise said. "They will go in. It is frustrating when it's not going in. I like the way I am playing. I am getting some great opportunities."